Men in the Kitchen

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Both my sons are great cooks and regularly cook family meals. They have favorite cookbooks and recipes. This is a far cry from the role my father played when I was growing up. My father, a successful business owner, a man of vision and strategy, was totally helpless in the kitchen. He never cooked a meal in his life. The one time he tried became family legend.

I grew up in Wisconsin in the 1950’s, the Ozzie and Harriet era when men went to work and middle class women stayed home to take care of the house and children. Big name restaurant chefs were all men, but household cooking was women’s domain. My father usually read the evening paper with a glass of wine while mama made dinner. She told me once that her father, an early 1900’s physician, loved to cook but was embarrassed to let anyone know. He would create something delicious in the kitchen and credit his wife when it was served. We can laugh now at the idea of being a “closet chef,” but in her day it was real.

Back to my father. One day, so the story goes, mama wasn’t feeling well and daddy told her to stay in bed and rest. He assured her that, even though he’d never done it before, he could certainly make his own breakfast—eggs, toast, and orange juice. Mama did it with such ease, how hard could it be?

The truth was he had no idea how to make his normal soft boiled eggs. I never saw him even boil water. He decided it would be easier to fry them. He turned on a burner and cracked his two eggs directly into the stainless steel pan. While they were cooking, he took out a can of frozen orange juice concentrate from the freezer and put it and the three cans of water in the blender, having seen his wife do the same thing many times. However, he must not have seen her then put the top on the blender as he omitted that step. The juice may not have reached the ceiling when he turned on the blender, but it spurted out like a geyser and covered the surrounding counter and floor.

His piece of toast got stuck in the toaster so he turned the appliance upside down, shaking the toaster to get it out. The blackened toast appeared, along with a mass of crumbs from previous toastings. By now the eggs, glued to the pan, looked ready to eat. He finally sat down to his homemade breakfast of overcooked egg, burned toast, and half mixed frozen orange juice. As it was getting late, he left everything as it was and left for work.

A short time later mama got herself up and came down the stairs. When she entered the kitchen, she must have gasped at the sight. The blender sat half full of juice while more oozed down the sides and over the counter. Her slippers stuck to the floor where the orange juice had sprayed. The fry pan sat on the stove, with burned egg covering the surface. The breakfast plate, with the remains of daddy’s first and only cooking adventure, sat on the table.

From then on, if daddy threatened to make his own breakfast, mama was up in a flash. She never let him cook anything again, regarding him as totally incompetent in the kitchen. Daddy, on the other hand, liked to refer to his cooking attempt as creative incompetence.

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